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For some high school girls, the lack of a dress can be a reason to skip the prom.  Fixing that has become the inspiration behind “Prom Dresses to Give.”

For the past four years, Prom Dresses to Give has organized local community members across Los Angeles and neighboring cities to provide hundreds of gently used formal gowns to senior girls. In addition, the event hosts free make-up tutorials to help girls prepare for their special day.

Guadalupe Morales, 17, a senior at Felícitas and Gonzalo Méndez High School, found a dress at this spring’s event at Plaza De La Raza. Morales chose a gold mermaid sequin dress, with a deep V-back, for her prom in May.

“I’m looking forward to wearing it, because it will allow me to step away from my comfort zone, as it’s very different from the clothing I wear,” she said at the time.  She added that she would have attended prom without the free dress, but the event helped alleviate the financial burden for her family.

“It helps a lot of people that are low income, people who can’t afford prom,” said Morales. “It’s already expensive in itself, and this is a way they can save money.”

The event’s founder, Amanda Mejía, 29, says that the cost of a dress shouldn’t determine whether a student can attend prom.  “We want all young women to feel empowered, confident and beautiful on their special day,” she said. For Mejia, Prom Dresses to Give is a labor of love.

Mejía, a government affairs manager at Athens Services, used to work as an East Area representative for Mayor Eric Garcetti.  Four years ago, she got the idea of giving dresses away and posted a message seeking donations on her Facebook page. At first, she used the trunk of her car to store them. From there, the event has grown every year. This year, about 650 dresses were donated, and 250 were given away.  

Amanda Mejía

“I thought that was very inspiring for me that people were willing to give dresses,” Mejía said.

Seamstresses were on hand at this year’s giveaway to help alter the dresses, and the girls could also choose shoes and accessories.  Makeup artists gave makeup tutorials and showed girls how to do their own makeup.

Community members donated 90 percent of the dresses, Mejía said, but Modcloth, a web-based clothing store, also donated dresses, and community members donated money to pay for snacks.

Los Angeles Police Department Commanding Officer Ruby Flores and other officers at Hollenbeck Police Station donated formal dresses to the event.

Flores said the motivating factor to donate was “to make these girls’ dreams come true and allow them to feel beautiful, feel like they are worthy of wearing a beautiful dress for prom.”

Students show chosen dresses at “Prom Dresses to Give” event.

Alex Pantoja, a volunteer at the Prom Dresses to Give event, said, “Every woman I know only uses [her prom] dress once, so I think it is a great opportunity to recycle, and everyone can give back any way they can.”

Mejía encourages the girls who received dresses to give back their dresses next year and create a cycle of local giving.

To donate dresses for next year’s event email [email protected] or Instagram @promdressestogive .

With reporting by Valentina Guevara-Hernandez

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